Nightmare Voyage Across Belegaer

The Dream-chaser and her fleet depart from the Grey Havens, in search of the island from Calphon’s dreams. Only a week out from the coast, the black sails of Corsair ships can be seen in pursuit!

There are a lot of reasons I love the Grey Havens / Dream-chaser cycle—it’s fresh both mechanically and thematically, while still being grounded in familiar themes. Voyage Across Belegaer starts aboard a ship off the western coast of Middle-earth, searching for an island that was once the peak of the mountain Meneltarma, found at the heart of ancient sunken Númenor. Most Lord of the Rings media sticks to the parts of the map that Frodo and Bilbo visited on their journeys, but this cycle wastes no time jumping right into the deep end of Middle-earth lore.

Come sail away with me

In case it has been a while since your last read of The Silmarillion, let’s start with a quick primer. Much of the Second Age of Middle-earth concerns the rise and fall of the island nation of Númenor. The star-shaped island was given as a gift from the Valar to Men as a reward for their role in helping to defeat Morgoth during the First Age. On that island they built a great seafaring kingdom.

At first, they were benevolent, but as always happens with Men, their hearts grew proud, and they sought to increase their wealth. They expanded their influence to the shores of Middle-earth, becoming an oppressive empire, ruling other Men from afar. Sauron—who had spent the intervening 3000 years doing some empire-building of his own—took advantage of the Númenorians’ hubris, allowing himself to be captured and taken back as a prisoner to Númenor, where he could destroy it from the inside.

He turned their hearts toward Morgoth-worship and convinced them to wage war on Valinor itself in exchange for eternal life. It was Eru Ilúvatar who stopped them, changing the shape of the world from flat to round, and placing the Undying Lands forever out of reach. In this process, the island of Númenor sank beneath the Great Sea, with only a handful of Ilúvatar’s Faithful surviving to escape to the shores of Middle-earth. Those survivors founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, both of which rose and fell in glory over the course of the next 2000 years.

The story of Voyage Across Belegaer opens with Calphon, a Gondorian nobleman, having prophetic dreams of his ancient ancestral home of Númenor. He sails to the Grey Havens to seek the wisdom of Círdan the Shipwright, who tells him that it is indeed possible that some of the highest peaks of The Land Beneath the Waves may still be visible as islands somewhere in the Great Sea to the west. The heroes agree to accompany him on his journey to locate the island and find out where exactly his dreams are leading him.

We’re going to need some boats!

Prepare the fleet

This cycle introduces a new sailing mechanic, which is used in several of the quests. At the start of the game, each player chooses a different Ship-Objective from the four choices—and one player must choose Calphon’s ship, the Dream-chaser. When playing solo, you get to take control of two ships. (That’s a very important rule which is often overlooked!) Each ship grants a significant benefit to your deck.

In addition, there are a few special rules governing ships. They can only attack and defend Ship-Enemies—not normal Enemies—and undefended attacks from Ship-Enemies must be placed on your Ship-Objective instead of a Hero. If you lose your ship, you lose the game. Ship-Enemies are special, too, in that they can only be defended by Ship-Objectives (although they can be attacked by anyone) and they feature the Boarding X keyword, which causes X regular Enemies to engage you from the Corsair deck when the Ship-Enemy engages you. With Boarding values as high as 3, things can get out of hand fast!

Furthermore, in quests which feature ships you need to dedicate characters to making Sailing tests each round at the start of the Quest phase. To do so, the first player shifts the group’s heading (which has 4 possible values) one value off-course, and then exhausts any number of characters. For each exhausted character, they discard one card from the top of the encounter deck. Hopefully, some of those cards will have a little ship’s wheel symbol in the bottom right corner. For each ship’s wheel, you get to shift your heading one value back on-course. If you’re at the best value, you’re considered “on-course”. Otherwise, you’re considered to be “off-course”.

In Voyage Across Belegaer, being on-course is everything. Many cards give you either a bonus for being on-course or hurt you harder if you’re off-course, so drifting off-course even for a short while can really snowball. The farther you are off-course, the more characters you’ll need to exhaust to get back on-course, meaning you need to focus more and more on sailing the farther you fall behind. But all the while the deck is hammering you harder too, so it becomes harder to maintain that strong board state needed to sail successfully (and deal with whatever else is causing you trouble).

Sailing is the star of the show for this quest, featuring a randomized quest deck with a total of 8(!) stages, 2 of which are new in Nightmare mode. The good news is that you get to skip one every time you manage to clear a quest while on-course. If you make it through the whole stack, you can evade or defeat your remaining Corsair pursuers and locate the island that you seek.

So, I’m going to need a deck that can spit out a fair number of allies to help me with questing without neglecting my fundamentals. Here’s what I came up with.

Deck: Tales out of Mithlond

Upon the shores of the Gulf of Lhûn the Elves built their havens, and named them Mithlond; and there they held many ships, for the harbourage was good. From the Grey Havens the Eldar ever and anon set sail, fleeing from the darkness of the days of Earth.

The Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

Theme: The Grey Havens

Hero (3)
(MotK) Galdor of the Havens (Messenger of the King Allies)
Círdan the Shipwright (The Grey Havens)
Gaeronel (ALeP – The Glittering Caves)

Contract (0)
1x Messenger of the King (The Land of Sorrow)

Ally (22)
1x Galdor of the Havens (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
3x Harlond Lookout (ALeP – The Glittering Caves)
2x Lindon Navigator (The Grey Havens)
2x Master of the Forge (Shadow and Flame)
3x Mithlond Sea-watcher (The Grey Havens)
3x Sailor of Lune (The Grey Havens)
2x Wandering Exile (Under the Ash Mountains)
3x Wandering Spirit (ALeP – The Glittering Caves)
3x Warden of the Havens (The Grey Havens)

Attachment (15)
1x Elven Spear (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
3x Explorer’s Almanac (The Grey Havens)
3x Lembas (Trouble in Tharbad)
1x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Relic of Nargothrond (ALeP – The Glittering Caves)
2x Song of Battle (The Dead Marshes)
2x To the Sea, to the Sea! (The Grey Havens)

Event (13)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
2x Lay of the Nauglamír (ALeP – The Glittering Caves)
3x Reforged (The Fate of Wilderland)
3x Salvaged Supplies (ALeP – The Glittering Caves)
2x Stand and Fight (Core Set)

3 Heroes, 50 Cards

Check out this deck’s description on RingsDB for info on how to play it.

Inspiration

When I first joined ALeP and saw that we were planning to breathe new life into the Grey Havens deck, I was immediately hooked. I remember trying to get the janky top-of-the-discard-pile cards to work back when they first came out, but it never really came together. Other than the Sailor of Lune, those cards rarely left my binder. But now, with a fresh set of cards supporting the archetype, it’s a fully functioning deck and has quickly become one of my favorites.

This deck is a variation on the one I used during ALeP playtesting. These three Heroes aren’t the most efficient options for a Grey Havens deck—it runs more smoothly with native access to Tactics resources—but I really wanted to see if I could make the deck work using the three Heroes most closely associated with the Grey Havens. It took a lot of tweaking, but I finally got the deck to a place that I’m very happy with it!

It’s a real brain-burner to play, which is part of what I like about it. Every turn feels like a new puzzle to solve, if I can just figure out the right order to discard everything so I can keep those bonuses active!

The play’s the thing

Win ratio: 3 / 5

What a fun quest! My three wins were solid—if I managed to make it through the first couple of rounds, I could generally stall on Stage 1 long enough to establish a respectable board state and ride it to victory. Even when things were going well, though, nothing was certain. In one game, my voyage was nearly cut short early when I flopped two copies of Shattered Sea in a row, threatening me with Location lock until I could rack up enough progress on some other Locations using an Explorer’s Almanac to gain back my lost ground. In another, an unlucky sailing test left me off-course right as a Scouting Ship appeared, turning my smooth first couple of rounds into a sudden ship-board battle that left me in a bad spot for several turns as I tried to clean up the mess it had dumped on me.

My two losses were just as epic. In one game, I was sweating bullets as I staged Ship-Enemy after Ship-Enemy, for four turns in a row. Eventually, a bad sailing test forced me to engage one of them, and things slowly spiraled out of control from there. I ended up skipping my sailing test entirely one round to try to buy myself some action economy to regain control. It almost worked! I was able to kill three Ship-Enemies before failing a quest by a little too much, raising my threat such that I had to engage two big ships at once. In the end I simply didn’t have enough hit points left on my own Ship-Objectives to take all those attacks.

The other loss had as much to do with my own deck as it did the encounter deck. A turn 1 Corsair Warship started me off on the back foot, forcing me to endure Archery 4 all game. After that, in round 2, Lay of the Nauglamír—normally the key card I need to get my engine going in the early game—completely whiffed, revealing zero Allies, and discarding nothing worth having in the discard pile. The loss of 5 resources in the early game was a huge setback, made even worse by Salvaged Supplies—my best resource accelerator—being nowhere to be found all game. I managed to engage and kill the Warship eventually anyway, but by then the damage it had done was too great and I didn’t have enough hit points left on my Ship-Objectives to carry me through the rest of the quest.

In all my games, the key was always to stay on course as much as possible. Exhausting 3 Allies for the sailing test was usually enough—sometimes I’d bump it up to 4 in the late game if I had a solid board state—but as with anything in card games, sometimes you just can’t predict what’s going to happen until you turn over those cards.

Final thoughts

There’s no better way to start out the cycle than playing a fun new deck against an excellent scenario. This deck has quickly become one of my favorites to pilot, so I’m sure I’ll continue to use and refine it as time goes on. And Voyage Across Belegaer remains my favorite sailing quest, with Nightmare mode merely improving on an already good thing. I’m glad the designers didn’t opt to make it significantly harder to succeed at sailing tests, as that wouldn’t have been nearly as fun as simply turning up the pressure with more difficult penalties for being off-course.

Next up is The Fate of Númenor, an island expedition. I’ve already got a couple of unorthodox deck ideas brewing for it, so I’m excited to see which one ends up as my final candidate for taking it down!

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